New School, Old School

For today's sobremesa, Juan tells us why Tibisay inspires more pity than anger. Imagining her as a graduate student in New York city and comparing that to her current self, he sees somebody who refused to let opportunities change her into a better person.

Few people know that, in the 1990s, Tibisay Lucena, the mastermind of Venezuela’s electoral obstruction, was a lowly New York City graduate student.

Little is known about her stint at the New School for Social Research’s Sociology Department, but one thing is clear: grad school in the Big Apple did not prevent her from becoming the petulant, quintessentially Latin American bureaucrat she ultimately became.

A lot of people in Venezuela tonight are angry at Tibisay, something they have grown accostumed to feeling. Tibisay comes and goes, like the tides of political crises. She will disappear for months at a time, but just when things start to get heated, she makes her appearance in our public sphere, brandishing an aura of legalese and a smart new ‘do, protecting herself from the accountability that is the last wish of our dying democracy with laws, procedures, and goons.

But as I watch Tibisay announce that 600,000 signatures – the will of 600,000 Venezuelans – are simply being thrown away on technicalities (at best) and whims (often), all I can feel is sorry for her.

For in the act of discarding the signatures of people who notoriously signed to revoke Maduro’s mandate – people like Henrique Capriles and Lilian Tintori, to name a few – Tibisay reveals herself as the backwards Latin American nincompoop that she is. In failing to see the PR disaster that discarding such notoriously public signatures creates, she reveals herself in all her glorious mediocrity.

I’ve been reading a lot about modern East Asian history recently, and one of the things that jumps out of the enormous development gains those countries have experienced is the sheer inventiveness of their bureaucracies. It’s not just that they’re mostly honest, it’s that they solve problems. There are exceptions, of course, but the bureaucracies that have shaped modern East Asian history – the MITIs and the EDBs – share the same culture of not letting rules get in the way of development. Instead, they write rules at the service of development.

You would think such a goal-oriented mentality, common in developed societies, would have rubbed off on Tibisay. After all, there are limits to how much one can blame Iris Varela for being such a goon. Tibisay, on the other hand, should know better. Ha visto mundo

And yet there she was, brandishing her authority and her silly, made-up rules, explaining to us that el reglamento is what matters, when we know she’s simply making it up as she goes along. She sits there trying to make the case that the signatures of Capriles, Tintori, your aunt, your cousin, yourself, and 85% of the people in your Whatsapp groups simply don’t matter, that none of us matter, because all that matters are the rules. The stupid Tibisay and her equally stupid rules are Maduro’s main line of defense at the moment.

This is so common in our country.

Think about it next time you have to deal with a secretary on a power trip, or a salesman who simply refuses to help you return an item you purchased, or a lazy public servant drinking coffee while throngs of people wait in line to be served.  Think about it next time you put procedure in front of people in your own job. When you see them, when you see yourself, think of Tibisay.

In the 1990s, some of us went to graduate school in the US not just to learn but to change. We were given a golden opportunity – in my case, and perhaps in Tibisay’s as well, by Leopoldo López’s father, who was the head of Fundayacucho at the time. Some of us used the experience to mature as people and develop a different outlook on life. Some of us like to feel we loosened the grip our culture had placed on our personalities.

But Tibisay? She only went back as the incarnation of our worse aspects.

As a great poet once said of people living in New York, “everybody here was someone else before.” But enlightenment and change – that is not for Tibisay. Ella pasó por Nueva York, pero Nueva York no pasó por ella.

Have a good weekend, everyone.